007 reasons James Bond rules
By Andy Seiler, USA TODAY
The new James Bond movie is called Die Another Day. But 40 years and 20 movies on, Bond’s caretakers are doing everything to make sure that day never arrives.
Despite hundreds of rip-offs, knock-offs and spoofs, the adventures of Secret Agent 007 remain the most popular movie franchise of all time ó by a long shot.
Die Another Day is poised to propel the series into its fifth decade in smashing shape. The movie, which opens Friday, was an extra year in the making and cost more than $130 million, a series record. It stars Pierce Brosnan, the most popular Bond since Sean Connery.
“For me, it was always about making him real and owning him,” says Brosnan, now on his fourth Bond.
Every man wants to be Bond, says Oscar winner Halle Berry, who plays bikini-clad assassin Jinx in Day. “And every woman wants to be with him.”
That Bond is red-hot again is proved by the biggest parade of wannabes and satirists since Connery’s heyday. In the 1960s, Dean Martin was Matt Helm, James Coburn (who died this week) was Our Man Flint and, spoofing it all, Don Adams was Maxwell Smart. Today, Tom Cruise is Ethan Hunt in Mission: Impossible, Vin Diesel is XXX and, spoofing it all, Mike Myers is Austin Powers.
Yet Bond rules, for 007 reasons:
* 001: Nobody does it better ó really. “The worldwide audience knows exactly what to expect from Bond and enjoys every minute of it,” says Danny Biederman, author of The 007 Collection and owner of a 4,000-piece memorabilia collection.
“XXX tried its hardest to act like Bond with a character who is supposed to be cooler than Bond,” Biederman says. “The problem is, you can’t be cooler than Bond.”
“Bond’s combination of humor, sarcasm and danger is a tough mix to get right,” adds Paul Levinson, chair of Media Studies at Fordham University in New York City. “He tosses off great one-liners right in the middle of life-and-death struggles.”
* 002: You and I get old. Bond gets replaced. Brosnan, 49, wasn’t even born when Ian Fleming wrote the first Bond novel. The original Bond would be living in an assisted-living retirement community by now, if not dead from drink and tobacco and bullet wounds.
And when Bond gets younger, so does the supporting cast. Roger Moore had already replaced Connery by the time new Bond girl Rosamund Pike was even born (in 1979).
“By being able to recast Bond, we have been able to make changes,” says producer Michael G. Wilson, who has been involved with the series since 1965 and who, along with half-sister Barbara Broccoli, now runs the show.
“These people are leading men, they’re not character actors, so they bring their own personalities to the role,” Wilson says. “Roger Moore played it much lighter and wouldn’t have been successful in some of the scripts for Sean Connery, Pierce Brosnan or Tim Dalton. And Tim wouldn’t have worked with a Roger Moore script.”
In other words, Bond is the star. And every Bond, even one-shot George Lazenby, has his fans.
“You’d be surprised at how many young people think Roger Moore was the best Bond, which is ridiculous for a Connery fan to hear,” says Steven Jay Rubin, author of The Complete James Bond Movie Encyclopedia. “Brosnan fans are even more numerous today.”
Brosnan’s secret? “You cannot mock it,” he says. “You have to respect it. Yes, you can be flippant within it. But you’re in this fantastical world, so you must play it as life and death.”
* 003: Bond girls are cool. And as times have changed, it took shrewd moves to keep them that way. “Gee, if you work in a Bond film, it could destroy your career,’ ” Wilson recalls potential Bond girls being told in the 1970s and early ’80s. Feminists criticized Bond for his promiscuity and for treating women as sex objects.
“But casting Judi Dench as M (in GoldenEye) nailed that to death,” Wilson says. Before that, Bond’s boss, M, had been a man. With a respected actress in the role, screenwriters were able to make accusations of sexism part of the plot. In Dench’s debut, she calls Bond “a sexist, misogynist dinosaur” and “relic of the Cold War.”
“Judi Dench cast as M was a big shift,” says Pike, a Shakespearean stage actress who went to Oxford, speaks three languages and plays the cello. She has never paid to see a Bond film and would not have played a Bond girl when she was younger. “But Judi Dench gave it license and respectability.”
Berry, who is negotiating with MGM to spin off her character in a separate movie series (the first Bond character to do this), finds the very issue irritating.
“I’m really tired of making excuses for being a sexy woman and wanting to play a sexy woman,” Berry says. “For a long time, women were taught to take that part of ourselves and stuff it somewhere. Jinx is pound for pound as powerful as James Bond.” (Director Lee Tamahori says he patterned Jinx after the ’60s cult comic-book heroine Modesty Blaise.) Pike and Berry enjoy a thrilling swordfight in Day, which would have been inconceivable in earlier Bond films.
* 004: Bond boasts those terrific trademarks. No, we don’t mean all the luxury product placements. We’re talking about Bond’s own trademarks: that theme music, that credit sequence with undulating nude models, that opening action scene. No other movie series has so many.
It’s no wonder that directors who have tried to impose their own identity on 007 have had a rough time of it. They still had to have the M scene (in which the testy boss gives Bond his mission) and the Q scene (in which the inventor, now played by scene-stealer John Cleese) shows Bond all the weaponry that will eventually save Bond’s life. Then there’s that extraordinary minor key theme music, written by Monty Norman and originally orchestrated by John Barry, with a surf guitar riff set against ominous strings.
“It’s a challenge to poke out through every little corner that’s available,” says Tamahori, who did figure out a way. “I just wanted to make a Bond movie like the great ones, such as The Spy Who Loved Me. I wanted to make Bond lighthearted without bordering on parody like Austin Powers.”
* 005: Bond movies are a family affair. “Although they are mammoth, multimillion-dollar productions, they are still a family business,” says Bruce Scivally, co-author of the new coffee table book James Bond: The Legacy. Albert “Cubby” Broccoli originally shepherded the Bond films to the screen with co-producer Harry Saltzman, he notes. When Saltzman left the series after 1974’s The Man With the Golden Gun, Broccoli mentored his own son and daughter to take over the dynasty. (Broccoli died in 1996.)
Now, the offspring and nephews and nieces of Wilson and Broccoli are coming up behind them in wardrobe, script and sound editing, and merchandising.
And that’s the pattern all down the line. “We got the third generation of some of the crew working in London,” Wilson says. “Some of the prop guys are the grandsons of prop guys.” Adds Scivally: “They’re not just people punching a clock. They’re carrying on their family tradition, and doing it with dedication and pride.”
Rick Yune, who plays villain Zao in Day but also graduated from the Wharton School of Business in Philadelphia, calls it “a great business model. They have a tremendous product, and they have a tremendous audience that they’ve cultivated over the years. The endorsement and merchandising tie-ins help pay for the film.”
* 006: New blood keeps Bond fresh. The crew may be constant, but Wilson and Broccoli like to bring in young and hungry writers and directors. As a result, Bond has transcended the Cold War that spawned him. Fleming’s ’50s Bond was a romantic fantasy of what a Cold War intelligence officer might have been like, says Peter Earnest, a former government agent who recruited spies for 26 years.
“People knew so little about the reality of the intelligence war that popular culture stepped in to fill that vacuum.” Even John F. Kennedy was a fan of the books.
But Bond became much more like Superman or the Lone Ranger through the years, Earnest says (“and he doesn’t even have a Tonto”), even as people learned that real spies were nothing like him.
“Bond is high profile,” says Earnest, who is now the executive director of the new International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. “He actually is the reverse of real spies. He announces his arrival with the latest luxury car. The average real spy wants to blend in as much as possible.”
Meanwhile, even Bond’s smoking and drinking habits change with the times. Once a chain smoker, Bond smokes only Cuban cigars in Day ó and only in Cuba.
“In the Brosnan era, you’re seeing a lot more whiskey,” says Michael Butzgy, “minister of martinis” and Webmaster of the Make Mine a 007 Web site (home.earthlink.net/~atomic_rom/007), which is dedicated to cataloging every cocktail Bond sips. “You’re not going to see the day where he’s having six or seven drinks in a movie anymore.”
Butzgy is glad that Bond still drinks: It’s the only aspect of his personality that most fans can actually copy. Though many fans believe Bond’s favorite drink is a vodka martini, it’s actually No. 2 after champagne, Butzgy reports. “Sean Connery only says ‘shaken not stirred’ once in the movies, in Goldfinger. In the first two Roger Moore films, he does not have a vodka martini at all.”
Tamahori does let Bond knock back a martini, but he pushes him in several other ways. “There’s a bit more texture, and there are unexpected twists,” says Toby Stephens, a lifelong fan who plays villain Gustav Graves.
The first shocker comes even before the opening credits ó but we won’t spoil it.
007: Bond’s creator was a genius. Because, after all, only a handful of writers have ever created a character that can endure for generations on the big screen. When Fleming created the first Bond novel in 1952, he thought the result was “miserable.”
We should all be so miserable as James Bond.
007 reasons James Bond rules